I know that everyone makes mistakes, and a lot of people get into minor – or major – traffic accidents, but I thought it was ironic that I didn’t get into my first car accident until after I’d returned from two years in Amman, Jordan. Driving in the Middle East is universally derided, not just by foreigners, but by Arabs, too, who always seemed to take a kind of long-suffering “oh well, what can we do about it” mentality towards fast, reckless driving. Many an evening I spent out on my balcony in Jordan were punctuated by a sudden roar of driver tearing down my little side street of Ma’en bin Zae’da at close to 120 km/h. And at least once a week, my colleagues and I would see massive car accidents on the road on our way down to Ein al Basha for work.

But no, I managed to evade any sort of driving mishaps until I was making an illegal left turn in the tiny village of Brooklyn, on my way back to my parents’ house after a weekend cleaning up my new house in Madison. Conveniently enough, the municipal court they directed me to was mere feet away from the point of collision. It’s like they built it there for convenience.

It's some sort of conspiracy!

It's some sort of conspiracy!

Anyway, that was several months ago, back at the beginning of November, and due to government proceedings taking forever to occur, my court date wasn’t until last week, January 4th. I was looking at 4 points removed from my driver’s license, and almost $90 in fines. I spruced myself up after work and put on my dress shoes and suit, and drove back south from Madison to Brooklyn, through that familiar intersection, and to the “court,” which for some odd reason had high schoolers playing intramural basketball in a gym. At first I thought I’d gotten the address incorrect, but a police officer told me the court was “in the basement” and they’d be ready for me in a few minutes.

I’ve never been to a court before, and my only preconceptions of it was that it would be large, there would be a judge, and numerous items smelling of leather and mahogany. When my fellow defendants and I were escorted downstairs through a heavy fire door, I discovered that the village of Brooklyn’s court was a storage room with a desk, a few metal folding chairs, and a USA flag. I barely had time to sit down in one of the chairs and read through a printed brochure on the chair, “how to plead guilty or innocent” before everyone else leapt to their feet. I looked around, realized I was the only one sitting, and climbed to my feet in time for the judge to walk past me. Judge Sandra Glasier was wearing a black robe (at least some things were as expected) and was carrying a sheaf of papers. After smiling around at us, she welcomed us to the Brooklyn Municipal Court, and glanced down at her paperwork. “We’ll just do things in alphabetical order, I think, so… Zach Hise?” She gestured to the folding chair sitting uncomfortably close to her desk. I actually had to push it back slightly in order to not hit the desk supports with my knees.

She asked me how I was going to plead, and from the brochure on the chair I knew that I either had a choice of “guilty, not guilty, or no contest.” After I asked her to explain what the last one meant, I probably proclaimed to her that I was “guilty” of my illegal left turn. There was no point in denying it. She chuckled and commented to the police officer bailiff by the door, “It’s so refreshing when people are actually willing to admit guilt.” I explained what had happened, and she asked me if my record was clean. I was momentarily surprised, as I had expected that all that information would be down on her stack of papers. I told her it was, and the bailiff shrugged and told her, “we can take him at his word, I guess.” I told the judge that the police officer who had written my ticket mentioned something called a “paroled ticket” in which people with otherwise clean records would be given a year’s parole from their time in court, and if they didn’t get into any other traffic police problems, their ticket would be wiped out. Although I didn’t mention it to her, that was basically the only reason why I had bothered to attend the court session, as opposed to just dropping a check in the mail and forgetting about it.

Judge Glasier looked rather embarrassed. “Well, yes, that does exist, but we really only do that for people who are 16 years old, not for adults.” She then told me that she’d knock off a point from the ticket, and turn it to “failure to stop at a stop sign” instead. I mused on whether I could ask her to take off six points instead, and knock the ticket fee down to $40 instead. “The ticket just shows you’re only human, that’s all – you’ll get your points back in a year.” I resisted the urge to point out that I didn’t really care about the points at all, that she could take off 11 for all I cared, and thanked her for the modification, stood up, and left. I had my checkbook with me, and wrote the check for the same amount that was on my November ticket, and dropped it in a box next to the kids’ gymnasium, where they were still playing basketball.

And that was my experience with being in court! Less flashy than I had imagined, but they were definitely fast about it – I was only in the room for about 15 minutes from start to finish. And I guess, now that I know that I’m “only human” I’m happy to have donated to the Brooklyn Municipal Court – perhaps someday, with slow but steady $90 contributions from people getting into accidents at that intersection, they’ll be able to move the intramural basketball team to its own building!